TACOMA, WA. — Trolling through the wreckage of the Mariners’ depressing second-half collapse as the season winds down…
This seems a good time to assess the club’s performance in two oft-cited organizational priorities: controlling the strike zone and significantly reducing the number of baserunning mistakes.
It is one of general manager Jerry Dipoto’s core beliefs that success is predicated on walks and strikeouts. More walks and fewer strikeouts at the plate, fewer walks and more strikeouts from the pitching staff.
Club officials quantify this through a plus/minus rating while pointing out that only once in franchise history have the Mariners finished with a winning record while compiling a minus rating.
Though Wednesday, the Mariners stood at plus-106: 368 walks and 1,095 strikeouts by the offense; 359 walks and 1,192 strikeouts from the pitching staff.
They were also 13 games above .500 at 79-66.
Last year, as a point of comparison, they finished at 78-84 with a minus-26 CTZ rating. So this appears to reinforce the Dipoto theory: A plus-132 CTZ swing and a plus-19 swing in the club’s record.
That’s fine until you add further context. Look at the five American League clubs likely to reach postseason:
New York: Plus-305.
Yes, the Athletics stand out as an obvious outlier, but it’s worth nothing that most of their problems occurred in their first 70 games: minus-96 while going 34-36. Since then, they are plus-43 while going 55-21.
Oakland’s improved CTZ rating still isn’t great, but it roughly coincides (as it does in the standings) with some serious CTZ slippage by the Mariners, who were plus-88 while going 55-31 through July 3.
Since then, the Mariners are just plus-18 while going 24-35. In short, the Mariners aren’t controlling the zone nearly as well as they did earlier in the season, and it’s killing them.
It’s not the only thing that’s killing them but, remember, the CTZ philosophy is the organization’s core belief. It is what the Mariners view as their pathway to success. When it slips, everything slips. And it has.
Let’s move onto baserunning.
The Mariners entered camp in February vowing to become a better baserunning team after pushing their tootblan total last year to unacceptable levels.
(Tootblan is the wonderful acronym for describing bad baserunning: Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop. It was first used in 2008 by Tony Jewell on his Cubs blog.)
There is much debate as to what actually constitutes a tootblan, but we’ll use the BsR rating available on www.Fangraphs.com, which seeks to turn stolen bases, caught stealings, and other baserunning plays into runs above/below average.
Specifically, the BsR rating is combination of Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), Weighted Grounded Into Double Play Runs (wGDP), and Ultimate Base Running (UBR).
Like the best sabermetric stats, BsR boils a complicated formula down to a easy-to-understand rating. It’s not perfect, but it serves as a reasonable tool for comparisons.
Anyway…a year ago, the Mariners finished with a minus-12.6 BsR rating which ranked 27th among the 30 clubs. This year, they are minus-6.3 through 145 games, which ranks 22nd overall.
So, they’re better. Not good, but better.
It’s worth noting that Houston (minus-7.2), Oakland (minus-7.5) and Boston (minus-7.8) are all worse on the bases than the Mariners. It’s also worth noting that all three of those teams put a lot more runners on base than the Mariners.
The bottom line here, through 145 games, is the Mariners are better than a year ago at controlling the zone and in running the bases. It’s probably no coincidence that they’re also better in the standings.
Better. But not good enough. It’s not yet mathematically official, but North America’s longest postseason drought in professional team sports is about to hit 17 years.